Nova Scotia

Halifax MLA Labi Kousoulis 1st to join the race to replace Stephen McNeil as premier

Former Nova Scotia Labour Minister Labi Kousoulis has become the first Liberal to officially launch a bid for the leadership of the provincial party.

Labi Kousoulis resigns as Nova Scotia's labour minister to run for the province's Liberal leadership

Labi Kousoulis announced his bid for leadership of Nova Scotia's Liberal party with his wife, Jill Chisholm, and their daughters, four-year-old Alexandra and two-year-old Olympia. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

The race to replace Stephen McNeil as Nova Scotia Liberal leader and premier officially has its first candidate.

Labi Kousoulis, the MLA for Halifax Citadel-Sable Island, launched his campaign in a church hall in the Armdale neighbourhood on Wednesday.

The small-business owner and one-time banker told a small gathering of family and friends he wants to take over the premier's job to be able to help grow Nova Scotia's economy.

"I was fortunate to find work here in Nova Scotia with Scotiabank, and I spent a number of years working in Amherst and Truro," said Kousoulis during a short speech.

"My clients were farmers, woodlot owners, manufacturers, retailers, to name a few. My work at Scotiabank was to help rural businesses succeed, and my goal as your premier is to do the same."

Kousoulis tendered his resignation Tuesday as labour minister to be able to join the race for his party's top job. The Halifax native was first elected as an MLA in 2013 and re-elected in the 2017 election.

Mary Clancy: 'He has it all'

Former MP Mary Clancy, who represented Halifax in Parliament from 1988 to 1997, was the most prominent Liberal at Wednesday's event, which did not include any members of the current Liberal caucus.

Clancy was part of the Liberals' candidate selection committee in the lead up to the 2013 election campaign. She recalled how a "very tall young man" walked into the room to be interviewed.

"Within seconds, in my head running on the tape was, this guy has what it takes," she said. "Indeed he has it all."

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Clancy called it edifying to know that Kousoulis "is prepared to come forward in what's one of the most difficult times our province has ever faced."

For his part, Kousoulis said he was eager to start talking to Liberals from across the province about policy and direction. He told CBC News he wanted to become the next premier to move the province forward.

"Being the premier of Nova Scotia you can really make an impact on people's lives," he said. "You have the ability to put in programs that improve [the lives of] people who are struggling.

"You can bring policies forward to create an economy that will create opportunities for our youth, keep them here at home."

'My door is going to be open to union leaders'

Asked how his leadership style might differ from that of McNeil, Kousoulis said, "Well I'm my own person but with our current premier, the successes he's had have been incredible."

However, Kousoulis suggested his approach would be less confrontational than McNeil's when it comes to the upcoming labour negotiations with Nova Scotia's public sector unions.

"My door is going to be open to union leaders," he said. "I would sit down and talk to them.

"I believe we have common ground with our union leaders. I believe we want the same thing, which is to provide good services to Nova Scotians."

Kousoulis also expressed support for the Yarmouth-to-Maine ferry service.

"I believe a link to the United States is vital and I will have further conversations with the people in Yarmouth."

Kousoulis also defended the Liberals' record on how open and transparent the current government has been. 

"I look at it and I'd say we have been open."

New leader to be chosen Feb. 6

Candidates in the leadership race can spend up to $350,000. Donations have to be accounted for but the party is leaving it to individual candidates to disclose their list of financial supporters and the amounts they are donating. 

Kousoulis was not ready to commit to full disclosure.

"I have a donation team. I haven't even talked to them about that, but I would consider that."

Liberals will choose a new leader on Feb. 6 using a one-member-one-vote format.